This article was first published in EL DIARIO DE CIUDAD JUÁREZ on 14 April 2005. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.
The late Salvador Urbina Quiroz – affectionately known as Chava Urbina – worked as a celebrated and widely respected criminal defense lawyer in Ciudad Juárez. The city’s prosecutor says that his life had been threatened on at least two occasions. Two gunmen murdered him and Cesar Cordero, a lawyer and juez de barandilla (magistrate of the peace) in his office on 26 May 2014 at 1720 on that Monday afternoon. A sometime contributor to various news outlets, especially to the city’s foremost newspaper El Diario de Juárez, Urbina Quiroz wrote the following, prescient column – posthumously translated into English by the MxJTP – on the occasion of the murder of his colleague, Victor Villar Chavarría, in April 2005.
It is estimated that around 20 lawyers have been murdered in Juárez in the last decade or so, a tragic statistic that now includes Cordero and Urbina. The day of their murder, seven other people were murdered in Juárez, marking it as 2014’s bloodiest day. PT
“With a heavy heart, but…”: A Murdered Criminal Defense Lawyer Speaks From the Grave
by Salvador Urbina Quiroz (EL DIARIO)
To my dear Ciudad Juárez, and to officials in the three levels of government charged with the difficult task of guarding our security, that of our family, friends, and our community, this current occasion proves difficult. So, with tears in my eyes, yours truly tells you this story from my home, inflamed by the tragedy of the craven murder of my colleague and friend, Lic. Victor Villar Chavarría. Víctor was fulfilling his duty when he was executed for gain in a premeditated and treacherous manner. The cowardly murderer shot him to death outside his office, a place where he had worked as a litigating lawyer and a harbinger of the law in this border town for several years until he had the audacity to take on public service work in the State Government as Chief Liquor Inspector. Together with Araceli Mercado, he promised to put the screws on the nightclubs, many of whose owners had turned our city into a huge cantina, operating them as pimping holes, brothels, and dens for drug dealing.
This administration tried to put a stop to such excesses: the long opening hours, and the protection of powerful, dark interests of the tsars monopolising these businesses. As proof, in the last four months the administration closed and shuttered more nightclubs than in previous years. Now there is no tolerance for violating alcohol laws and legal procedures that regulate those controversial and disorderly businesses.
But, as always, even in our mourning, while Villar’s family grieves, some gutter journalist has dared to suggest that Víctor was involved in “something.” So, without informing themselves, or even with due regard to professional ethics, reporters raise groundless questions that cause irreparable harm, worsen the tragedy for the man’s family, permit public officials to discredit the victim, and which justify those officials’ inability to identify those responsible for this cowardly crime.
One thing is certain: while they continue to create more police bodies, more super-prosecutors and super-police forces, these multiplications just add to the rivalry between agencies. Such competition only increases the value of seeking acclaim through photo opportunities: prosecuting and imparting justice continue to fail.
The worst thing is that, while unable to discharge the functions each body or agency has, they try to amass more powers, and under the pretext that they can’t act in such and such a circumstance. That’s what has happened with municipal police forces: they are looking for powers to investigate drug smuggling even though we all know that, instead of discharging their official duty of prevention, many protect those places where drugs are sold by the dose.
The community bears enormous mistrust against these police, meaning that there’s an apathy and lack of respect for legality. It’s worse when that apathy and disrespect begin with those same authorities. Juridically this is untenable. As the saying goes, it’s as if “God didn’t give scorpions a tail.”
Now that people are asking for the Mexican Army to add guard duties to its tasks in this city and in the state of Chihuahua, what the local authorities are revealing is their inability to confront wrongdoers. Local authorities have failed in their duty to provide public safety to our community – preventing crimes and, prosecuting them when they occur and delivering justice.
Local authorities have not been able to complete investigations. The monopoly of the power to punish that falls to these institutions – lacking, deficient, and corrupt – adds to the ineffective work of judges and magistrates, and amounts to just one thing: IMPUNITY. While our authorities fail to fight impunity by coordinating themselves, organized crime knows that its members won´t be punished or prosecuted. So, members of either common or specialized organized crime find ongoing motivation for continuing to commit crime. Meanwhile, as citizens we fail to do what we should: request results from our officials or demand their immediate resignation.
Police chiefs, prosecutors, directors, secretaries, delegates – whatever they want to call themselves – all of them are public servants. And if they don’t serve, they should give way to people who have that vocation, preparation and, above everything else, the disposition to bring our beloved Ciudad Juárez out of its public insecurity. Anything contrary to reducing insecurity means that we will have to resort to vigilantism, bringing us to the extreme of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
As I said at the outset, my heart is heavy. But I have the insides, the courage, and the feelings of somebody from Juárez. I share in the grief of the family of Victor Villar Chavarría, including that of the daughter of my beloved friend.
The late Salvador Urbina Quiroz (52), a widely celebrated criminal lawyer with three decades of experience, practiced in Juárez up until his violent murder on Monday 26 May 2014. The original article – published on 14 April 2005 as “Con el corazón en la mano… pero,” is not available publicly on the web.